What are the most popular fantastical beasts, and how do you measure their popularity? I thought it would be fun to take a look at the most popular cryptid from each region of the United States. A cryptid is an animal whose existence is claimed but unproven – think Bigfoot.
How do you measure their popularity? I used Google Trends to compare each creature’s search numbers. Now, some cryptids share their name with a brand, and it’s arguable whether searches for this brand count toward their numbers. They may speak to an RV-line or shoe brand’s popularity more than that of the creature itself. Fortunately, most winning cryptids ran away with their victory just like they were running away from a camera. Most of these weren’t close fights, but the popularity of one or two may surprise you.
What else would go here but Sasquatch, also known as Bigfoot? He’s so famous he’s got his own beer and he puts on a great music festival every year (at The Gorge in George, Washington, which is a phrase that never gets old). In fact, if Bigfoot ever is discovered, he’ll have so much back-pay owed off his branding alone, we won’t have to protect him – he’ll probably just buy Oregon.
Where most cryptid beasties have to rely on only a handful of eyewitness testimonies, Bigfoot boasts thousands. It’s enough to give even serious doubters pause – maybe not through belief, but it’d be nice if there were still magic out in the world to shock us.
The only cryptid that gets any traction on Bigfoot is the Chupacabra, a sort of vampire for goats. Although it’s often referred to as Mexican, the creature’s story originates in Puerto Rico. The youngest entrant on this list, it’s first news article was in 1995. Earlier stretches of animal death from 1975 have been grandfathered into its history, however.
Benjamin Radford spoke to the first eyewitness in his book “Tracking the Chupacabra.” She said it looked exactly like the alien from “Species,” which is a remarkable coincidence, since she also told him she’d just seen “Species.”
By then, the Chupacabra’s legend had already run wild. Americans began claiming stray dogs and coyotes were, in fact, the dreaded Chupacabra, and the cryptid’s representation became more dog-like, less human. Even Russia has claimed widespread Chupacabra sightings. Growing up alongside the internet has its benefits: the Chupacabra’s one of the few cryptids to have gone international, and the legend is still in its 20s.
The Midwest’s reputation for practicality doesn’t fail here – it’s a bit boring when it comes to fantasy beasties. Wisconsin’s Beast of Bray Road is its only serious contender. The beast is described as a bear-like creature. Like a bear, it can move on all fours or on two feet. Its fur is described as a mix of brown and gray, much like a bear. You may be noticing a pattern. Welcome to the Midwest: we have bears. But legend says this thing’s totally a werewolf.
Unlike most cryptids, there is a simple test to figure out whether the creature is a bear or not. No one’s tried it yet, but if you sight the Beast of Bray Road, hand it a football. As any football fan from the Midwest can tell you, if it throws the football back at you and a Green Bay Packer intercepts it, you’ve got yourself a Bear. If, on the other hand, that football hits you in the hands, you’ve got something else entirely.
You’d think it would be the skunk ape, but nope – it’s good, old Mothman. That just goes to show you what Richard Gere can do for your career. Whether the Mothman is cryptid or apparition is a little fuzzy. It originated in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, where disparate and unconnected reports claimed sightings of a man-sized mothlike figure with glowing eyes. After the collapse of Silver Bridge in 1967, which killed 46 people, the Mothman wasn’t seen again. This led many to believe the Mothman is less creature, more portent of impending doom.
Point Pleasant now holds an Annual Mothman Festival, where a portent of tragedy is now commemorated with pancake eating contests. Still, who can be upset? That kind of tourist money probably fixes a lot of bridges.
With apologies to Lake Champlain’s cousin of the Loch Ness Monster, Champ, the Jersey Devil walks away with this award. Its popularity has dwindled, though, with the Wendigo making a comeback and the Dover Demon chewing into the Jersey Devil’s hell-based branding. (This is what you get when you found a region on Puritanism.)
The Jersey Devil is, of course, both an apt description of Governor Chris Christie and reality’s anticipation of Manbearpig from “South Park.” It’s half kangaroo, half goat, half bat. Although legend has it that Dutch explorers originally referred to Jersey Devils as drakes or dragons, there’s actually no record of its mention until the early 1900s. Some believe the Jersey Devil is nothing more than mistaken sandhill cranes, a tall-legged species of bird that can grow up to four feet tall and counts Pennsylvania at the edge of its range. (The same argument has been made about the Mothman.)
“Supernatural” has run the concept of Wendigos a few times, in the form of skin-walkers. They are, essentially, a co-optation of an Algonquin legend regarding spirits who appear human or transform from a human in order to eat our flesh. Cult movies like dark comedy “Ravenous” have also toyed with the concept.
Who is the most popular of these creatures? Bigfoot, and it’s not even close. The Chupacabra surpasses Bigfoot in search numbers after major news features, but it can never hold at Bigfoot’s level. Internationally, The Loch Ness Monster trails both, but can get some Bigfoot-level spikes every few years.
None of these win globally, however. Instead, it’s Bigfoot’s Himalayan cousin who laps the field. The Yeti is, by far, the most searched-for cryptid in the world. Everyone likes believing there’s a little undiscovered magic left somewhere on this planet. Sometimes that takes the form of cryptid creatures. It’s a Yeti world, we’re just living in it.
What’s your favorite cryptid? Do you know anyone who claims to have seen one?